4 Benefits of Experiencing Grief and Loss

And what it can mean for eventually living a better life.


Life, at its core, is about death. There’s no escaping from its eventuality. We’ve all been through a year of prominent loss, and some of us even losing loved ones before their time. The pandemic has thrown death into the forefront and caused it to often be experienced behind closed doors.

As it has become such a main feature, it serves as a daily reminder of how we are such futile beings. We never know when the next day could be our last or how much time we have got left. That’s part of the wonder, uncertainty and joy of being human and having the privilege of being alive.

This is not going to be some forcefully positive story about how death and grief is always a wonderful and enlightening experience — because it’s not all of the time. Additionally, everybody is different. No person grieves in the same way, and it takes some longer than others to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But in this year of prominent loss, I wanted to add in some light. As nobody can escape a life without loss, we all have to eventually come to terms with it.

Doing so can cause a re-appreciation for life or even a fundamental reshaping of how we see the world. Under its layers of darkness, there are glimmers of light. Here’s how to seek them out and eventually start leading a more fulfilling life when you’re ready.


1. You learn heaps about yourself

Many of us probably go about our day to day lives, not entirely feeling in tune with ourselves. Maybe we are people pleasers who often say yes to invitations and requests at the detriment of our own well being. Maybe we are trying to fit in with a friendship group we shouldn’t be a part of. Or maybe we have strained, unfixable relationships with our family that we continue to persist with despite the strain on our mental health.

Whatever it is — there will be times in our lives where we push our needs to one side to accommodate others — there is a time and place for being selfless. But experiencing grief and loss is one point in our lives where we should be unashamedly selfish.

When I lost my older brother last year, just before lockdown happened for the first time, I had no idea how to process the grief and wealth of emotions that came with it. Apart from losing a few family pets and distant family members in the past, I had never dealt with grief on such a personal level. I had no idea what to do with those emotions. It was a year-long process of working out how best I could cope with it, and it was pretty unconventional.

I requested family and friends to leave me alone.

Despite the thoughtful messages and barrage of ‘how are you?’ constantly, I just wanted to be left to it. I needed to be undisturbed to process these emotions in the best way for me.

Everybody will have a different coping mechanism, but silent solitude was the way I got through it. Not replying to anyone, not talking and processing these emotions through journaling, mindful exercise and eventually falling in love with writing was my way out. It certainly won’t be everybody’s — but that’s what this process taught me.

Of course, nobody craves grief or wants to go through it, but it will certainly teach you a lot about yourself and how you process difficult emotions. This will undoubtedly then stay with you for life.


2. It can bring us closer together

Although this contrasts with the solitude I just expressed, it’s nonetheless an important facet of going through grief. Death is the one asset of life that everybody will share — despite other differences beyond our control.

In the deepest, rawest thaws of grief, it’s easy to forget. Believe me, I did. For me, this realisation definitely took time, and it might for you too. It might take months or even years to gain this sense of commonality, but once you do, it will make you realise just how similar we all are.

“Despite grief being individual, it is also universal.” — William Berry, LMHC., CAP

Although grief is such an individual experience, death in a wider sense is universal. Once you are out of the darkest side, it can be a great comfort to know that everybody around us — whether stranger or friend — will at some point go through a similar range of emotions. After all, death is such an integral part of our lives. It’s what makes us human.

In a year where death has featured so heavily across the world with the pandemic, knowing that all of us will never be able to escape it is strangely comforting.

In the depths of isolation and pain, sometimes this realisation can help, but it will definitely become an advantage once you are through the other side. Realising our universality, rather than difference, encourages us to be more empathetic and understanding towards each other.


3. It teaches us to be better listeners

I’ve never been the best listener, and I think it’s because my mind likes to whirl at one hundred miles an hour. But I’m working on it. For me, solitude was an essential part of processing grief for the first year after I lost my brother.

But when I started to feel comfortable with opening up and talking about it all, I realised how important it was that the other person was a good listener. It can be easy to smother the grieving person in positive sentiments, affirmations of love and all the rest, and forget to pause and listen.

Before I lost someone, I didn’t know how to comfort another person going through grief. It felt alien and beyond my realm. If I had known then that one of the most important things was to listen, I would have saved myself many worries.

If you’re stuck with finding the right words to say to someone, the best bet is to provide them with a space to vent and for you to listen. It can be tempting to fill the void with positive words and thoughts, but when you’re in the thick of grief and processing it all, in reality, this is meaningless. You just want to be heard.

Listening as a skill is underrated. We live in a world where we all want to be heard on some level, whether that’s through social media or in real life. Politics has become more polarised because individuals fail to listen and have a valuable conversation with each other. If in doubt, we should all be prepared to sit back and listen, as words are meaningless if used just to fill a void.


4. You learn to find joy in the simplest of things

Being at your worst mentally can cause you to see the beauty in the every day, as often it’s the only way through the struggle. Whether it’s finding appreciation in an indulgent cup of coffee in the morning, harnessing a new appreciation for nature or devoting time to doing one thing that you love every day, grief reminds us of these snippets of joy.

As it’s a time to be unashamedly selfish and putting ourselves first, it also involves a process of discovering what makes you feel your best and what can brighten a dark day. Importantly, doing so isn’t implying all the pain will go away but offering a sense of respite.

Nancy Berns, PhD, writing in Psychology Today, talks about the process of learning how to ‘wade through’ and fight against the tide during grief.

Imperative to this is learning how to find the positives even in moments of great pain and loss. This, in turn, will put us on the path to acceptance but importantly, this doesn’t mean those feelings of grief will go away. Part of accepting it is knowing that it may always be there, gently simmering in the background.

“Wade into the pain (like getting use to the cold) until you feel some warmth. Face the pain long enough to be able to look around and see that joy and life remain. You can learn to float while immersed in grief.” — Nancy Berns Ph.D

Finding pleasure and happiness in the smallest things can help you through grief and is an ideal way to approach life. It encourages us to be grateful, resourceful, and live a far more sustainable life than constantly craving excess, which will not further our overall happiness or state of mind.


Going through grief can expose the importance of learning about ourselves, bringing people closer together in their shared struggle, knowing when to listen rather than talk and find joy even in the darkest of times. Nobody wants to experience grief, but it is inevitable for us all and a part of life.

Although grief is a universal emotion, the way we process it can be different. However, like many things in life, there are positives you can take away from the experience if only you know where to look.

Originally published in Mind Cafe on Medium.com


Further reading:

5 Mindfulness Strategies You Can Adopt to Help with Grief and Loss

Dear Ryan


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I Went Back to Work for the First Time in 14 months

Observations and thoughts from this momentous day and returning to normality


The sun was already shining into the room before it hit 6 o’clock this morning. I knew as I had been awake before my alarm. The night before, I panicked that I would sleep through because I am not used to being awake at that early hour.

My body was high on the excitement and nerves of returning to work for the first time since March 2020. I briefly did a stint at another store in the three weeks before Christmas, but this was going to be something else. I had to brave public transport, the commute and a whole set of people I haven’t seen for fourteen months.

Despite the lack of sleep and being awake at 6:30 am on a Monday in May, it made me think about how much the world had changed since the last time I took that journey. And most importantly, how much I had, too.


The town I work in somehow looks emptier but packed full of life

As I wandered down all too familiar streets as the morning sun hit the shiny windows, I was struck by how many places were boarded up and empty. Many livelihoods and local businesses had obviously not made it out to the other side of the pandemic. Those people would never be able to make a return journey to a place they knew and worked in before. It was all gone.


But as I walked, I noticed that there were new leases of life everywhere. Another set of people were willing to take a shot at owning a bar, pub, shop or restaurant when a lot of the street had given up hope, thanks to the pandemic. As I went about my day and eased myself back into work, I found myself taking frequent glances out of the window. I was shocked to see streams of people — having been on my own for most of the year.


People were sitting outside in the sun, walking dogs, carrying children and living life for all of us to see. Because for months before this, it has largely been behind closed doors, and our streets have been stagnant.


Life was bursting out of the seams when I looked out of that window, but yet there was so much that had grown lethargic, even motionless.


There’s something entirely comforting about being surrounded by books and like-minded people


I’ve been curled up in my flat for the best part of the year. In the darkest months of the pandemic, I would go for weeks without seeing another person (aside from my partner.) Today felt better. Being surrounded by books in my flat felt like being in a room full of lots of people and stories, because in essence, that’s exactly what they are, aside from physical objects.


And I was getting hints of that familiar feeling by being back at work. In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I work in a bookshop. A wonderful bookshop in a busy high street, staffed by some of the nicest, most welcoming and friendly people I have ever met. As I walked through the door, I was hit by that familiar book smell and the comfort that being surrounded by shelves full to the brim with books often brings.


It takes a particular type of person to walk (and browse in) a bookshop. But we are usually all pretty similar. Being back there today made me realise just how comforting it is and how much it was missed during the empty months that have just been.


Getting up before the rest of the world is tough but endlessly rewarding

Okay, 6:30 isn’t that early. I am exaggerating a bit. However, a lot of people aren’t up at that time. I was dreading it the night before, as I always get this feeling of nervous anticipation before starting something new. I wasn’t worried about going back or anything like that; I just had butterflies in my belly and found it hard to settle (and sleep.)

The thought of getting up at 6:30 when I’ve been treated to a year of getting up on my own terms and having lazy mornings was tough. But when it came round to it, I was raring to go, even waking up half an hour before my alarm.

As I sit here and write this, fourteen hours later, my eyes are weary, and I can feel an enormous weight of tiredness washing over me. My feet ache, and my brain is tired from the constant socialisation. But was it worth it? Yes, always, for the accomplishment it brings. I know my day has been spent well, and I have made another step back to normality.


I wanted to write today, but I didn’t quite know what I would feel up to because of the long day I’ve had. I’m not sure if this adds any value for anyone else, but that’s okay. Writing doesn’t always have to. It’s a means of expression at its finest, and sometimes, it’s okay to be selfish and only mean something to the person writing it.

At its core, this is a snapshot of my day, but maybe it will be enjoyable to read for others. I’m going to try and push through and continue to write whilst I’m at work, even if I’m tired because I love it. Writing to me is one of the only things that make sense in this world, so I have to do it.

I hope you have all had a good start to your week. What are you up to? Let me know if you like 😊

Further reading:

I Was One of the Top 1000 Medium Writers In April

3 History Books That Will Change the Way You See the World


Please note, this was originally published on Medium.com

Progress Isn’t Linear

Feeling the pressure? Don’t — you’re doing great.


In our day to day lives, we can all get bogged down with what we’re not doing rather than what we are. This can give us a false impression of the progress we’ve made and can obscure how far we have come.

The pandemic and the new working from home culture that has evolved from it has disrupted the balance between work and downtime, and for many of us, on furlough or spending more time at home, the pressure to fit something in at every hour of the day can be a lot.

When you’re not doing anything particularly ‘productive’, it can be easy to beat yourself up about it. But I’m here to remind you that progress isn’t linear. If it were, we’d all be where we want to be, instantaneously. Primarily, this is because life is inherently unpredictable. There will be days that are written off for a myriad of reasons, or even years, depending on everyone’s personal situation.

So don’t get down in the dumps if you are not where you want to be yet — and instead — focus on where you are right now and what you have done.

Often, I can get down in the dumps about being behind in my career and the fact I’ve spent nearly every day at home since March 2020. On bad days, I can take to social media and compare myself to people (especially those younger than me) and marvel and their positions. But then I remember how important this abundance of free time has been for me.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, I probably would have launched into some graduate job I wasn’t that keen on, never discovered my love for writing, and my anxiety would have spiralled. Although I may not be where I thought I would be by this age, there are other things I have achieved that I am proud of, especially when I make an effort to reflect on how far I’ve come.

Take my writing as one example. On the left is my total reach from just two months of writing on Medium. On the right, after eight months, is what it looks like today.

Image created by the author using Canva

I’m having a bit of a rough time with my writing now, especially on Medium. But when I look at that side by side, I realise just how much progress I have made. It puts everything into perspective. I can guarantee you’re making progress in whatever you are doing, but perhaps, you don’t realise it yet.


Articles


Books

Image created by the author using Canva

Jo Cox: More in Common, by Brendan Cox (biography)

As local elections are on the horizon here in the UK, I’m reminded of how much was lost when Thomas Mair murdered Jo Cox during the Brexit referendum campaign. Jo’s life and her approach to politics should be a reminder to us all that regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, we do have more in common than what sets us apart.

Politics should be less divisive and binary, and it is a shame in recent years that it has become this way.

‘Jo Cox’s selfless service to others made the world a better place’ — Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States


Articles I wrote this week

  1. What are Local Elections and Why Do They Matter? Backbench UK
  2. Working as a Bookseller Convinced me to Always Prioritize BooksA Thousand Lives
  3. Should Writing be Approached as a Marathon or a Sprint? Writer’s Blokke

As always, I hope this newsletter finds everybody well! Remember, you make a little bit of progress every day, even if you don’t think you are. Until next week! Violet x


This is a weekly newsletter from Violet Recommends. Every week I give you some writing advice, reading recommendations and all my latest articles in one place. Sign up (it’s free!)

Originally published at https://violetdaniels.substack.com.

What Studying to be Journalist from Home is *Really* Like

The highs and lows of my first week studying the NCTJ via distance learning.

I had been thinking about doing an NCTJ Diploma (National Council for the Training of Journalists) for a long time, but I think the experience of lockdown 3 finally pushed me over the edge to take the plunge and start.

Training to be a journalist is no easy feat and undertaking this whilst we’re still in a pandemic is even more problematic. But I figured doing this would definitely be a story to tell.

Like any natural journalist, I’ve decided to document the process and this stage in my life. Hopefully, it will be useful for people considering taking the first steps into the industry or considering a career change. It will also be a nice documentation for me to look back on in the future when I’ve hopefully ‘made’ it.

After ordering my materials and enrolling a few weeks ago, I thought I’d take some time to pause and reflect on my experience so far. In this post, I’ll be discussing why I opted to go down this route, what I’m currently studying and how I’ve found the process so far.

If you would prefer to watch or listen to me talk about this, I did make a video documenting my first week. But a quick disclaimer — I have no desire to be a broadcast journalist or go down the TV route — writing is very much my medium of choice. Still, I’m enjoying the process of trying something new and experimenting with editing.


What Is an Nctj and Why Did I Decide to Do it?

First of all, the NCTJ Level 5 Diploma is pretty much an industry standard, you don’t need it to become a journalist, but it’s beneficial if you’re starting from scratch like me.

It covers important topics like media law, public affairs, shorthand (optional) and the essential skills you need to become a journalist. My degree is in History, and whilst this is useful to some extent — the only experience I have in journalism is in student media. To apply to journalism jobs and enter the industry, I felt that this could potentially hold me back without having some formal qualification in the field.

Why distance learning

You can do an NCTJ qualification as part of some integrated masters or with an organisation like News Associates or the Press Association. A few years ago, after attending a talk from PA at university, I applied for one of their courses, went for interviews, got a place and was going to take it up. However, affordability was an issue for me and having to commute to London five times a week.

Essentially, doing the NCTJ via distance learning was the only financially viable option for me, as you pay per module and don’t have to pay a lump fee to secure your place. Additionally, I won’t be having to pay for the commuting into London. Also, with everything still happening with the pandemic, even if I had opted to study the NCTJ at a centre, most of my learning would be remote anyway.

It may be a slower pace than the traditional route, as it is meant to be studied alongside full or part-time work, but personally, I would rather take my time and complete it within 1 year than pack it all into a few months.

To wrap up, affordability, convenience, and practicality were reasons I decided to do the NCTJ via distance learning.


What I’m Studying — including Modules & Assessment

Image provided by the NCTJ

The NCTJ program via distance learning is compiled of mandatory skills modules which include: essential journalism, ethics and regulation, media law and the e-portfolio. When you enrol, you have the option to purchase these all in a bundle at a lower cost than paying for them individually, so that’s what I decided to start with.

As well as completing the mandatory ones, you also get to choose between a range of more specialist modules, including court reporting, data journalism and public affairs. But I haven’t got that far yet; I aim to get the core modules under my belt first.

Ethics & regulation

This module essentially consists of some of the ethical issues that arise from reporting, attaining evidence and gaining interviews and is heavily influenced by the Levenson inquiry and phone hacking scandal.

As part of the module and assessment, you have to learn the IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) Editor’s Code of Practice, which basically sets out what a journalist can publish and how to attain that information. It’s a set of editorial standards that publications in the UK (if they chose to be part of IPSO) have to adhere to. It takes a bit of getting your head around at first, but I found most of the module’s content to be pretty straightforward.

I’ve already booked my IPSO Editor’s code exam for April, as it’s multiple choice and only takes half an hour. I’m looking forward to getting that under my belt to focus on more of the hefty modules. I managed to get through most of the content for this in a week, as it’s a relatively small module (only worth 3 credits out of 82 for the entire course) — but it is assessed throughout the other mandatory modules too.

Overall, I enjoyed studying this module as I learned about the theory, issues, and problems that can arise from reporting and put that into practice with case study examples and some more present-day ones.

Media law

I can already feel this module becoming my nemesis. It is a hefty one, which makes up 10 credits as opposed to 3. I only started it this week, so I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, but I can totally see how important it is for journalists to know about the law — as they could easily be sued for defamation or libel.

As someone coming from a non-law background with minimal knowledge about how the court systems work, it is a lot to take in at first. I feel the 2 and a half hour exam will be tough, but it’s made me realise how important it is to know about this stuff as journalists with platforms and responsibilities.


An Overview of What the First Few Weeks Were like

Before I actually opened the textbook and started studying, I did feel overwhelmed. Unlike traditional face to face (or virtual teaching), doing the course via distance learning means you don’t have anyone to structure your learning for you.

I had to spend quite a lot of time figuring out the modules, how the course worked and what to start with. I’m also lucky enough to be part of a distance learning group chat, so I turned to them for advice. But it was hard to have no guidance on this — especially when it’s something you are so used to having in formal education. However, after a bit of work, the course did start to make sense, and I don’t feel confused anymore — which was good.

I’m very glad I started with ethics and regulation as that eased me in, it’s not an overly complicated module, and the assessment is pretty lenient too, so I would suggest (if you are looking to do this course and are feeling lost) to start with that. Media law is another topic altogether, and I will have more thoughts on it as the weeks progress.

In terms of support — we get one hour of tutor time for every module, but they are incredibly responsive to emails and have been super helpful. I had some problems with the links in my documents and got a rapid response after contacting someone about it. Although obviously, it’s hard not to have that constant support, tutors are always there when you need them — and so is the group chat!

Last week wasn’t a great week to be a trainee journalist

But it isn’t all blue skies. I started my course amidst Piers Morgan’s coverage of the interview between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (which was diabolical). Seeing certain people online agree with the broadcaster was infuriating. It corresponded with the very week I was studying the ethics of journalism, and it angered me that so many people couldn’t see how his dismissal of Meghan’s suicidal feelings wasn’t damaging and sets a dangerous precedent for how we think about mental health.

And that week also corresponded with Sarah Everard’s kidnapping from London and the outpouring of women’s experience of sexual assault, rape, and mistreatment all over social media. It was a heavy news week and being inclined to read the news and engage with it as I am, I spent so much time on Twitter and felt compelled to keep up.

It made me question whether I could cope with the news cycle’s heaviness and the constant pressures to stay online and up to date. But then I realised that all journalists are human and take time off (without feeling guilty) all the time.


All in all, I’ve had a very positive experience of my first few weeks studying the NCTJ from home. It is far harder than opting to study it at a centre, as there’s no constant guidance to get you started — but once you’ve taken time to get to grips with the course, it’s fine.

I plan to get as many of the theory modules under my belt as possible, so I can then focus on doing the e-portfolio and getting placements — which will be the most difficult part, considering we’re still in a pandemic. But I’m hoping as the months go on that restrictions will ease and things will get easier to organise.

Next week might be a slightly different story as I progress with media law and the complexity and heaviness that it brings, but I’ll make sure to keep it real and keep you up to date with my progress.


This was originally published on March 18, 2021 at Medium.com

On the Simplicity of Just Being

As an overthinker, it can be easy to get distracted from the present moment. Too often I find myself paralysed with fear about the next few years, or even weeks, which detracts me from just being. It’s hard to overcome, but of late I’ve been more successful.

Tuning in with myself every morning by writing a few pages in my journal has allowed the worries I may feel to slip to one side. It doesn’t cure them, nor eradicate them, but it means that I can have a day where all my energy isn’t solely dissipated on that.

But it is in these very moments of stillness – that have become even more abundant in the second lockdown we are now living through – that I have experienced joy, a sense of peace and calamity. I’ve never been one for mass excitement, big gatherings or celebrations, as I’d much rather be with just a few people or even curled up by myself with a good book. However, during this pandemic, I have gained so much from just being.

Whether that be sitting still and listening to the sounds around me – the cry of the birds, the hum of gentle traffic – or slowly making my way through a book at my own pace. Or even, sitting in silence in the same room as my partner as we both do our own thing. Just being in the moment, recognising it and making peace with it without worrying about the future, has been, and continues to be, a great comfort for me.

Maybe I sound like an old lady way beyond my time. But maybe I don’t. During an age of mass excess, at least, the pandemic appears to have made our lives simpler. The allocation of more time spent at home has allowed some of us to spend more time with ourselves, figure out what we love and strip things back down to the basics. And isn’t this what life is really about? If we don’t know what the simple things we love in life are, then what are we striving for? In the same vein – overcomplication can often lead to apprehension and depreciation.

Taking time to be at peace and appreciate the moment instead of worrying about the future, is something I’ve learnt to recognise and started to practice this year. It’s helped me to become more present, mindful and at peace with myself.

I’m still not sure what my future holds, or where I’ll end up, but for once, I’m okay with that. I’m not having sleepless nights panicking about what kind of grand career I haven’t planned out for myself, but am, for now, content with the beauty of being. And just surviving in this thing called life. This doesn’t mean I’ve stagnated – in fact, I have a myriad of ideas. Ideas I would never have dreamed up if it wasn’t for lockdown.

I’m not sure what this post was meant to be, or quite where I was going with it. I just came on here to say hello and that I’m still here on this blog, from time to time. But I knew that I wanted to write about what I felt in this moment – which was a deep sense of inner peace, from just being.

If you’re reading this, I hope you take a moment to just be. Soak it all in, and try not to worry about tomorrow or the next day. As now is all we have.

Sending love and best wishes to everyone.

Check out my latest posts on Medium here.


“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today. I’ll always remember it.”

Emma Morley, One Day (David Nicholls)